It's no secret that Android's dominance of the smartphone world is due in part to the sheer number of models available running the OS. This abundance of choice, while undoubtedly good for consumers, presents a challenge for OEMs as they design and build handsets: how to craft a device that stands out from the crowd? At this point, we've seen slabs of all sizes, a legion of landscape sliders, and a dual-screen oddity join the Android family. Now, LG has created the DoublePlay, giving users both a hint of the Echo's dual screen experience along with a split physical keyboard for tactile typing. In doing so, the company has accomplished something we weren't sure was possible by building a unique Android phone. The question is, does this unusual form factor provide an improved user experience, or is it destined to go down in gadget history as a gimmick?
Gallery | 41 Photos

LG DoublePlay review


Hardware


Pull the DoublePlay out of its box, and the first thing you notice is its heft. Yours truly carries an HTC Thunderbolt on a regular basis, which at 6.23 ounces (177 grams) is no bantamweight, and LG's new phone is even heavier in hands and pockets, checking in at a stout 6.7 ounces (190 grams). Unsurprisingly, the 4.8 x 2.5 x .63-inch (122 x 63.5 x 16-millimeter) slider's also .09 inches thicker than our portly daily driver. While the girth is a somewhat forgivable trade-off for a tactile keyboard, we were baffled by the handset's weight -- it's constructed largely of plastic, after all. That exterior has a two tone motif: dark pewter polycarbonate rings the Gorilla Glass screen and composes the battery door, while a silver band bisects its profile all the way round. There's also a brushed metal stripe inlaid in the back that rings the phone's 5-megapixel camera and is inscribed with the DoublePlay and LG logos. Along the left edge is a swiveling door that masks a micro USB port, while the volume rocker resides on the right. Up top, you'll find the power/lock button and a 3.5mm headphone jack. It's a largely unremarkable package, and we had a couple of niggles with its build -- there was a visible seam in the plastic at the top left corner, and while the gaps between exterior pieces were pleasantly uniform, both the battery door and the slider had some flex to it when given a squeeze.


Beneath its gray skin beats the same single-core 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 Scorpion CPU found in the HTC Radar, and you'll find the usual menagerie of radios found in other T-Mobile devices as well. There's quad-band (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) GSM for world travelers plus UMTS Band I 2100MHz and Band IV 2100/1700 MHz/AWS for use on T-Mo's 21Mbps HSPA+ network, while 802.11b/g/n WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth 3.0 round out the connectivity options. The DoublePlay also has 512MB of RAM and a microSD slot that comes with a paltry 2GB unit preinstalled, so you won't be putting seasons of Saved by the Bell in your pocket without springing for a more capacious card.

Call quality was good, whether we were using the cellular radio or WiFi calling app, as voices came through loud and clear. Using the speakerphone wasn't as good an experience, because the mic, according to those on the other end, had some trouble picking up our voice if we were more than a few inches away. We tested the phone in both Maui and Mountain View, California, and found reception was good in both places -- though the faux-G signal would drop out for seconds at a time on occasion in Maui before locking back in. We didn't have another T-Mo phone handy to compare, and the issue never popped up in the Bay Area, so we're chalking that one up to gremlins in the island's network. Data speeds were between 3 to 5.5Mbps down (depending on the signal strength) and were right around 1 to 1.5Mbps up everywhere we went.

The DoublePlay's primary display is a 3.5-inch 320 x 480 LCD that provides predictably poor performance in sunlight, but on the upside, it has essentially 180-degree viewing angles on both the x and y axis. Colors only washed out (and just a little bit) if we rotated the phone on an angle between the two. The panel showcases things with somewhat muted hues and a slightly yellowish tint as compared to higher-quality LCDs we've laid eyes on, and with its modest resolution, pixelation is noticeable. Those rough edges become even more apparent when viewing identical icons on both screens -- things look much clearer on the 240 x 320 secondary display. In other words, this isn't a screen that sates the cravings of pixel density enthusiasts, nor does it provide the vibrant colors or inky blacks of a Super AMOLED screen.

Slider, keyboard and secondary display


Enough with the hardware undercard, though, it's time for the main event: let's delve into that diminutive 2-inch secondary display and the keyboard surrounding it. Before talking about those standout features, however, let's address the slider itself. Push the screen upwards -- it's easily operated with one hand or two -- and halfway, a spring engages to take it the rest of the way, locking into place with a muted snick. As we've seen in other sliders, there's some give on the y-axis when it's extended, but the mechanism is otherwise rock solid. Once the display has been nudged northward, the full DoublePlay experience is unleashed.

First off, there's the split keyboard. If you're accustomed to software keyboards (guilty), hardware grids can be a welcome change, and the LG's was a joy to use. We don't exactly have massive hands, so the split design accommodated our thumbs quite nicely. The keys themselves, with their domed shape and short throw, provided that pleasant tactile feedback many of us fancy. There was some serious flex to the grid on each side when depressing a central key, but it's really only noticeable when staring at the keyboard -- it didn't negatively impact the feel of things while we were typing. We used the physical keyboard more often than not when sending emails and texts, and we found ourselves missing it upon returning to SwiftKey on our Thunderbolt.


Now, between the two sets of keys lies the DoublePlay's other big differentiator, the secondary display, which, as we said before, is a 2-inch panel sporting a 240 x 320 resolution. Because it's got a higher pixel density (187 versus 163ppi) than the main screen, icons and text look much crisper on the secondary display, though it suffers from the same color reproduction issues of the bigger panel. Pixelation isn't as noticeable, but it's still there.

Camera


With a five megapixel autofocus shooter onboard, we weren't expecting much from the DoublePlay's camera, and it met our relatively low expectations. Colors were washed out, and pictures were fairly grainy in even the best lighting conditions. Additionally, brightly lit areas wound up looking blown out when composing shots when both shade and sunlight were involved. Low light performance was -- as with many phone cameras -- poor, with grainy results across the board.

Gallery | 45 Photos

LG DoublePlay sample shots



No matter what mode we used, we were only ever able to obtain mediocre results.
There are plenty of adjustments you can make within the camera app, however. Face tracking and macro modes are included, along with a variety of scene modes, ISO controls (with 400 being the max), five white balance settings plus color effects (like sepia and negative exposure themes) can be applied as well. There's a multitude of shooting modes, including useful ones like continuous shot for sequential pictures and panorama mode alongside more whimsical options like smile shot (which triggers the shutter when it detects a smile) and face effect (which creates mosaic and fish-eye photos, among other effects). The myriad options aren't without appeal, but we wish LG had given the DoublePlay a better camera with which to employ them. No matter what mode we used, we were only ever able to obtain mediocre results. We should also mention that the DoublePlay comes without a front facing camera, which means you won't be video chatting with your friends -- a shame considering the phone's second screen could be put to good use in such a scenario.

Many of the features for still shots can be used when shooting video with the DoublePlay as well. Recordings can be taken in up to 720p, and performance is, as it was taking stills, nothing to shout about. Videos are choppy when shooting moving objects, and results get worse the faster the action gets. Colors, once again, are somewhat pale and washed out, and the camera is slow to adapt when moving from dark objects to lighter ones.

Performance and battery life


Speaking of battery life, we got six hours and 40 minutes out of the DoublePlay's 1,500mAh cell using our standard test: looping video with screen brightness at 50 percent, WiFi and GPS on, plus Twitter polling every fifteen minutes and push email enabled. In our real world usage test -- making a few calls, checking email, and some web browsing -- we had almost 30 percent of the battery left by the end of our workday. The battery's endurance is better than say, the 1,400mAh unit in our Thunderbolt (which isn't saying much), but it isn't the most miserly phone we've used, either. As for benchmarks, well, the DoublePlay doesn't pack bleeding edge internals, and the scores below reflect that fact. It even froze up once or twice while we were putting it through its paces.

Benchmark
LG DoublePlay
SunSpider 0.9.1 3,824ms
Linpack single 36.6 MFLOPS
Linpack multi 33.8 MFLOPS
Nenamark 1 57.1 fps
Nenamark 2 30.1 fps
Neocore 58.9 fps
Quadrant 1,361


Despite its modest silicon, and middle of the road benchmarking prowess, we found few faults with the DoublePlay's daily performance. Web pages load and render quickly enough, with only the occasional hiccup scrolling through content. Similarly, swiping through Android home screens was a smooth experience, and the phone had no problems playing games, music or video.

Software


The LG DoublePlay comes running Android 2.3.4 with Swype's software keyboard and a plethora of applications preloaded. There's the usual magenta-clad wares like Bobsled cloud and group texting, T-Mobile TV and visual voicemail along with a handful of games, including Tetris and Sim City Deluxe. Those games require an additional download to play (and are only a demo at that), so at least they don't take up too much space -- a bonus considering they can't be uninstalled. Speaking of unremovable bloat, the phone comes carrying a bit less of such software than we've seen before, a welcome change, to be sure. Aside from the standard Android system applications, T-Mo saw fit to add Slacker, TeleNav GPS, Blio e-reader, DoubleTwist, Polaris Office and Zinio (among others) to the DoublePlay's memory banks, plus Lookout's mobile security and backup suite as well.

Among the more useful apps is "Car Home," which provides direct access to voice search, navigation, contacts, call log, music and the dialer with large onscreen buttons to make them easy to use while on the road. You can also add custom shortcuts if the preprogrammed apps don't fulfill your Android automotive needs. We found this application quite handy, as it allowed us easier access to the apps we most often use while driving than would have otherwise been possible.

Apps on the secondary screen work in conjunction with the main display. There are nine apps that use it to provide a variety of functions (though oddly enough, there's only room for eight on the screen). Messaging, music, browser, e-mail, social, calendar, Richnote, photo and Bobsled group text are the chosen ones, with each app providing varied levels of utility. For example, the browser app gives access to your bookmarks via a vertical carousel of webpage thumbnails, while email gives you a list of inbox messages, the social app lets you scroll through a list of recent tweets and Facebook posts, and the calendar shows what's in store for the day. Emails, posts and webpages open on the primary display, so for those apps, the smaller screen simply serves as a navigation tool. The messaging, music and Richnote note-taking apps are fully functional, however, letting you listen to music, compose notes or send and receive text messages while surfing the web and using other applications on the main screen. Of course, it's not true multitasking, as apps opened on the big display are paused as soon as you start scrolling through emails or Facebook posts on the smaller one. We should also note that there's some contextual awareness to its operation as well -- open the browser on the big screen, and the small screen automatically shows you the carousel of your bookmarks.


In our time with the DoublePlay, we found the second screen most useful as a messaging and note-taking device. It was quite convenient to jot down notes about webpages as we read them and sending and receiving SMS without having to exit our game of Angry Birds was incredibly convenient. Overall, the second screen is a successful addition to the phone, and far from being a gimmick, we found it a handy productivity tool.

Wrap-up


We must admit: before laying hands on our review unit, we weren't sure whether the DoublePlay's second screen was more marketing ploy or useful feature. After spending some time with the device, however, we can say that it provides some significant utility. The two-inch panel improves the smartphone experience by better enabling Android's quasi-multitasking abilities (in certain apps), but it's by no means a must-have feature. If you have the need for a hardware keyboard, are a messaging maven and crave a handset that stands out from the crowd, the DoublePlay may be just what you're looking for -- just know you'll be sacrificing video chat due to the lack of a front-facing camera and you'll pay for the privilege with weighed-down pockets.
T-Mobile

LG DoublePlay

Pros

  • Second screen a handy productivity tool
  • Split keyboard a pleasure to use
  • Excellent viewing angles on both displays

Cons

  • Hefty and thick, even for a slider
  • Mediocre main screen
  • Lacks a front-facing camera
Summary

For heavy texters, the DoublePlay's keys and second screen are a godsend, though its weight and girth make it a less attractive option than other sliders.